Archbishop Pargev Martirossian: The Face of Karabagh


By Alin Gregorian

Mirror-Spectator Staff

BOSTON — Stepanakert, the home of Archbishop Pargev Martirossian, the Primate of the Karabagh Diocese, is a world away from the US, but for this ambassador of this tiny republic and man of God, no distance is too great to spread the word about Karabagh.

Martirossian is Karabagh’s first archbishop since the 1930s. The late Catholicos of All Armenians Vazken I appointed him in 1989 to the post. “Moscow allowed it,” he said, much to the chagrin of Azeri authorities. Martirossian, who was given the name Gurgen at birth, was born in Sumgait, Azerbaijan, to a family from the northern Karabagh town of Chardakhly. He entered the Gevorkian Seminary in Echmiadzin in 1980. He was ordained in 1983 and graduated in 1984. In 1985 he was ordained a celibate priest and given the name Pargev. He was made a bishop by Vazken I in 1988 and was named an archbishop by the late Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin I in 1999.

Martirossian stopped for an interview during his short visit to Boston, part of his tour of the US in support of the Armenia Fund Telethon, scheduled to take place on Thanksgiving Day.

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During his visit, Martirossian attended the Knights of Vartan’s annual program, dedicated this year to raise funds for Armenia Fund USA and the World Bank program in Armenia. He visited the Armenian Library and Museum of America, where he spoke at length with curator Gary Lind-Sinanian and toured the new exhibit of photographs by Yousuf Karsh.

He also met with Ruth Thomasian, founder and executive director of Project SAVE. He visited the site of the Armenian Heritage Park in Boston and performed the Divine Liturgy at Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Cambridge. Kevork and Jacqueline Atinizian then hosted him at a private dinner.

The prelate had nothing but praise for Armenia Fund USA and all the other chapters of Armenia Fund, suggesting that several layers of controls ensured that the funds went where they were intended.

This year’s theme for Armenia Fund USA is water. Martirossian said, “It is enormous work. First there was the Road of Life, linking Goris [Armenia] and Stepanakert, then the North-South Highway, which is the backbone of Karabagh and then many schools and hospitals.”

“These heroes who have won and kept our borders, if we don’t give them clean water, shame on us,” he added with emphasis.

Water, he said, affects every part of life, clearly, and its absence hinders the republic’s programs to boost its population. He recalled that Prime Minister Araik Haroutunian visited a village recently and spoke with a farmer who had three sons and asked the patriarch if any of the sons were married and if not, why. The archbishop said, the farmer had replied, “We work with animals and can bathe only once a week. How can we bring a young girl here to live under these circumstances?”

The current population of Karabagh is 150,000, Martirossian said, but noted that it should have been 300,000 by this time. Everything, including a larger population, requires money, he said.

“To bring people in Karabagh, we need to spend $70,000 per person,” he said. That money, he said, is the cost of building infrastructure and creating a high living standard, including roads, light, gas, water, schools, clubs and sports arenas.

“We need help from the diaspora,” Martirossian said.

Martirossian said that the one thing that hinders growth in Karabagh is that the country is not recognized internationally, and thus is not qualified for many loans and other assistance programs. Their only source of help, thus, is Armenia.

Martirossian said that the Azeri government “talks with ultimatums” but that it needs to “recognize that Karabagh can never stay under Azeri rule.” He added that the republic needs a tacit agreement from the Azeri government guaranteeing its safety, but that agreement, he said, is not forthcoming.

He noted, however, “sooner or later, the Karabagh Question will be solved.” After all, he said, Kosovo, Abkhazia and Eritrea have all set precedents.

“We are very grateful to the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] who are moderating and organizing meetings,” he noted.

Martirossian was happy about the change in the fortunes of Shushi, which had been in ruins after the war for liberation. The city, he said, has two new hotels and life is improving there, though he cautioned that improvements were still needed.

Martirossian was most proud that 75 percent of the republic has access to gas and electricity and that the Internet and cell phones have become readily available.

“Of course, life is easier, but it still is not enough. People want everything quickly,” he said, adding, “Paris, Moscow or New York, none of them became what they are overnight.”

He said that Karabagh is looking into attracting more tourists with its majestic mountains and monasteries. The region’s old Christian past should also attract religious tourists, he noted.

When asked how he was able to cope with all that he has to with all the difficulties that the republic has faced, Martirossian got philosophical: “It’s like a father in a house with his children. The children need to be taken care of no matter what. It is my job. They are my 150,000 children. I am accountable to God. You need to take care of them. That the duty of every cleric.”

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